7 Tips on How to Pursue a Cybersecurity Career and Improve Your Earning Potential

How to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you’d like to go in your career. 

It’s time to reimagine your career and pivot to a cybersecurity role that checks all the boxes and gives you the skills and confidence you need to build a career that brings you a sense of fulfillment each day. 

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Why Choose a Cybersecurity Career?

Finding your first cybersecurity job can feel intimidating and overwhelming, particularly when you have little to no experience in the field. But what’s great about a career in cybersecurity is that there are countless opportunities to expand your skill set as the industry continues to evolve. 

Cybersecurity jobs are among the fastest-growing career paths in the nation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that information security analyst positions will grow 33% from 2020 to 2030.

With nearly 600,000 cybersecurity job openings currently available in the United States alone, there has never been a better time to enter the field. That said, there’s a huge tech skills gap that’s steadily increasing in virtually every industry—and there are no signs of slowing down. 

With remote work becoming the norm, many organizations have been experiencing increasing cyberattacks. In fact, since March of 2020, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has reported a 300% increase in daily complaints. 

Meaning, that now more than ever, there’s more opportunity than ever to develop your cybersecurity skill set and bring value to employers looking to protect their most valuable assets.

There are plenty of reasons people choose to pivot into a cybersecurity career, do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • I want to pursue growth opportunities that aren’t available in my current career.
  • I want to feel more fulfilled and passionate about the work I’m doing. 
  • I want to increase my salary, benefits, and work-life balance.
  • And these are just a few!

One major factor holding people back from taking that next step and pursuing a cybersecurity career is that they lack an actionable plan. A career change is within reach for anyone with the right direction, determination, and support system.

Post-it note: Goal, Plan, Action

Planning For Your New Career 

To get you moving on the right path towards a brighter, bolder future, we’re offering a series of tips for successfully pivoting into a cybersecurity role. 

1. Inventory Your Skills

Take a walk down memory lane and look at your past positions, experiences, and hobbies. Which aspects of those roles bring you the most joy? Are there one or two tasks that stand out amongst the others? 

Inventory the skills you were utilizing throughout those activities and break them down into hard and soft skills

Select three to five skills from each category that you would prefer to use in your new role and map them to career paths in the cybersecurity field. 

For example, if you’re an analytical thinker and enjoy solving puzzles in your free time, you may find yourself gravitating towards an offensive cybersecurity role, where you would utilize ethical hacking to mimic complex cyberattacks and uncover security vulnerabilities. Or, you may have a strong technical background and would prefer being a company’s first line of defense against unauthorized access, which would lead you toward a career in network security engineering. 

The options are endless. 

Identifying your strengths and seeking positions where you can leverage them is the first step towards pivoting into a fulfilling cybersecurity role that’s best suited for you.

Read our cybersecurity career guide to learn how to get started.

2. Set SMART Career Goals, Then Write Them Down!

An important step when you’re thinking about pivoting careers is goal-setting. There’s somewhat of a science behind setting goals, yet we’re rarely taught how to do it properly. 

A recent study found that 3% of MBA graduates who had their goals written down ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% combined in the ten years following their graduation. 

Why? Because they had clear, written goals and plans on how to accomplish them. 

A great way to ensure you’re developing achievable goals is to use the SMART Goal method. S-M-A-R-T is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Based. 

Let’s start with an example of what NOT to do when setting career goals. Someone who isn’t using the SMART Goal methodology may jot down the following: 

“Get a cybersecurity job that pays well.”

This isn’t very specific, doesn’t get into how they’ll achieve it, and has no timeline to set a benchmark for success. 

Instead, they could try:

“Find a cybersecurity role with a bikeable commute in the next 6 months that contributes to protecting a company’s most vulnerable assets, uses my analytical thinking abilities and offers the opportunity to continually learn from my peers in the automotive industry.” 

This is very specific and factors in personal considerations like being able to bike to work, building relationships with those in the cyber field, and focusing on continuous learning. It’s also time-based and sets clear expectations for when the goal should be accomplished. 

3. Understand Which Sacrifices You’re Willing to Make 

Regardless of the field or industry you’re looking to pivot into, there’s always going to be some give and take. 

To pursue that shiny new cybersecurity career you’ve always wanted, you may have to make some sacrifices along the way, like studying on the weekend instead of sleeping in or writing a cover letter instead of getting together with friends. 

It’s important to be upfront with yourself and define what sacrifices you’re willing to make. 

This especially rings true when looking at how your new career will affect the lifestyle you want to lead. 

For example, if you’re passionate about traveling or are looking to start a family, but the specific career you’re considering won’t allow for it, are you truly going to be happy? Will the salary increase and passion for what you’re doing be enough? 

You know yourself best, so it’s essential to be realistic about the sacrifices you’re willing to make to stay on track. Having your deal breakers laid out before you run into them will make for an easier journey. 

You’ll be much more prepared and ready to make the choices necessary to reach your career goals and find the cybersecurity role that suits you best. 

4. Find a Mentor in the Cybersecurity Field 

One way to get started is to reach out to your existing contacts and see if they have industry connections. Another great way to find a connection in the cyber industry is to hop on LinkedIn. 

Gabrielle Kamekona, Head of Career Coaching at American University Digital Skills Professional Programs recommends the following:

“If you’re someone who isn’t sure about the career path you’re exploring, find someone in the industry on LinkedIn and ask them, ‘Listen, I’m looking at pursuing this as a career and I’m not sure. I would love to get coffee with you or pick your brain for 15-20 minutes.’ 

We often forget that people love to be mentors and help the next generation in their field. So don’t be afraid to send out some of those messages. LinkedIn is a powerful resource and we often forget to use it.”  
Here are some examples of questions you should ask during your conversation: 

  • Can you explain your career path to me? 
  • Why did you choose to go into cybersecurity? 
  • What kind of growth opportunities are available in cybersecurity? 
  • What are the most important soft/hard skills for this role? 
  • What are some common challenges you experience in this role? 
  • What do you enjoy most about your job in the cybersecurity field? 

5. Know Where You can Start

Now that you have a clear idea of your skills and goals, it is important to map out your expectations for the job you want. There are 3.5 million job openings projected for the cybersecurity field by 2025 so there is no shortage of avenues for you to consider. It is important to keep in mind that the demand for information security professionals is not exclusively at the entry-level: there is an ongoing need for specialists at the mid-level and higher. Once you are in the industry, growth is not just accessible but encouraged.

So where do you fit in? Understanding the role you want will allow you to inventory your skills and goals, and measure them alongside your experience. If this is your first step into the cybersecurity industry, be prepared to start at the entry-level so you can gain the additional experience needed to scale your growth.

Regardless of the industry, consistent professional development is the key to advancing your career and creating opportunities. You have a variety of options to continue developing your skills, from investing in your education to earning industry standard certifications.

6. Lean Into Professional Development with Continuing Education Options

Pivoting into cybersecurity, or continuing to grow in the field, can be expedited with courses designed to teach you in-demand skills. This can feel intimidating amidst an already busy schedule, but exploring the options that fit your individual needs will make the process much easier.

Whether it’s taking an online class to upskill, heading to community college for training, or enrolling in a 4-year program, there are many opportunities out there to equip you for a cybersecurity role

Another great opportunity to gain both theoretical and practical experience is through a specialized cybersecurity certificate program. This can help lay the foundation to pursue industry credentials that we will cover in the next section. 

This pathway is an excellent option for career changers or those who want to expand their existing cybersecurity knowledge. It’s also a great way to get the hands-on experience you’ll need to succeed in the cyber workforce without the immense time commitment of a multi-year program. 

Cybersecurity certificate programs typically consider that many of their students will be career changers or those who want to level up their skills, so they’ll offer online learning and weekend/evening classes. 

Select certificate programs even feature personalized career services to help you polish your resume, prep for interviews, and connect with hiring managers. Having this type of added support can play a huge role in ensuring you stick to your SMART goals and successfully pivot into the cybersecurity field.

7. Go For Certifications

Certifications are essential to a successful career in tech. They help recruiters and employers verify that you can successfully demonstrate knowledge and skills in critical areas of cybersecurity. They also benefit you directly: certifications are a good way of indicating the scope of your knowledge, and can give you a leg up when you are a candidate for a job opening or promotion.

There are a broad range of information security certifications you can achieve as you gain more experience in the industry. They are an excellent way of honing your knowledge in a specific cybersecurity niche if you choose that route. Cybersecurity certifications range from specific to generic, so it helps to have a basic understanding of the different certifications and their implications for your career.

  • CompTIA Security+
    • This is a general certification that covers a variety of security topics, and is one of the most popular entry-level credentials. Preparing for this exam can help you to develop the cybersecurity skills employers seek for positions like SOC analyst and cybersecurity consultant.
  • (ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP)
    • This entry-level certification is widely recognized in the industry. Candidates looking to break into the information security sector can prepare for jobs like security analyst and security administrator with this certification.
  • LPI Linux Essentials Certification
    • While not quite an entry-level certification, this is an excellent credential to keep in mind if you want to make a career in Linux systems administration. Linux is an essential part of any cybersecurity role: specialized distributions such as Kali Linux are used to perform vulnerability assessments. Our research-backed curriculum includes practical exercises with Kali Linux.
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Discover a New Cybersecurity Career

Pursuing a cybersecurity career has never been easier. If you would like to learn more about the American University Cybersecurity Professional Certificate Program, give our career advisors a call at (202) 888-4202 or fill out the form below.

I’m Ready to Launch My Cybersecurity Career!

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